MGEITF: "Edinburgh loves a Murdoch"

24 Aug 2012  |  Liz Jaques 

Elisabeth Murdoch distanced herself from the current scandal surrounding her family - and noticeably from her brother James - during the MacTaggart lecture last night.

Giving the keynote speech at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival (MGEITF) - the first female to do so in 17 years - she praised the BBC, talked of the need for News Corporation to re-evaluate its set of values but focussed on her love of television.

Unsurprisingly she did not dwell on the phone-hacking scandal engulfing News International, but she did say News Corporation is asking itself "some significant and difficult questions at the moment".

She also contradicted her brother James' provocative finishing statement during the conclusion of his own MacTaggart speech: "The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit." Elisabeth said profit without purpose is a "recipe for disaster... profit must be a servant, not our master". She also pointed out: "We'd all do well to remember that with great power comes great responsibility."

Three years ago, James Murdoch took to the stage in Edinburgh to criticise the BBC, discussing issues around independence and power. Elisabeth, on the other hand, complimented Mark Thompson for experimenting and collaborating. "The BBC is the furthest ahead at understanding that our new world needs a new eco-system." She said that she is a current supporter of the BBC licence fee as "it gives it a real purpose".

Looking ahead to the challenges facing the new BBC director general George Entwistle, Elisabeth said "he'll need to prove that the licence fee is being spent on content". She also talked of the "BBC's unrivalled Olympic coverage" and TV's ability to inspire audiences.

Her polished performance touched on the "exciting and explosive" emergence of online video; and the commercial opportunities around services such as YouTube. Elisabeth is keen to learn from the younger generation, particularly when it comes to creating communities and connecting directly with audiences. "Let's not come late to the party," she said.

She warned that relying on eyeballs for TV advertising is not sustainable, and instead encouraged commercial broadcasters to develop more personalised relationships with their viewers in a bid to engage and interact - "otherwise they'll be dependent on the live event". "They need to do it soon," she said. "It's about empowering audiences... we need to learn and learn quickly - slapping a hashtag in the corner of the screen just won't cut it." Elisabeth sees a bright future for TV with developments around connected TV, second screens and social TV.

But the 44-year-old, who runs Shine Television, was keen to focus on creative content; and on a vibrant, optimistic and aspirational industry. "People aren't watching technology, they are watching TV," she said. "Social media cannot have the same impact as TV... there is something about the power of television - and it's ability to tell great stories."

She started by saying that the MacTaggart lecture was a "double-edge sword" - in her own words "a massive pain in the arse but also a pleasure" - but she rallied a packed room full of delegates with her upbeat and positive take on TV. She worried about how to add value and insight - as well as what to wear - but I imagine she'll be pleased with the response, though maybe not with the press looking for a scoop on her family.

To her credit, Elisabeth did not completely ignore the scandal - touching on the Leveson inquiry and the need for a "free press" - and she corrected some of what her brother said in his harsh attack on the BBC - but, importantly, she kept the focus on the thing that really matters to her, the TV delegates here in Edinburgh and most consumers - great TV!.

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